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Whittle Restructuring Emphasizes Electronic Media

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Whittle Communications last week announced a company restructuring to focus more on its electronic media services, such as the Channel One high-school news show, and a likely curtailment of its traditional print media.

Whittle has become well-known to educators in recent years because of the controversies over Channel One and, more recently, because of plans by the firm's chairman, Christopher Whittle, to develop a chain of state-of-the-art, for-profit private schools.

Long before the debate over the television news show for teenagers, Knoxville, Tenn.-based Whittle was in thousands of schools with ad-supported wall posters such as "The Big Picture'' and "Connections.'' The company has also specialized in magazines for college students, limited-sponsor magazines for doctors' offices and single-advertiser "custom'' magazines for corporate clients.

In recent years, Whittle has focused increasingly on electronic media projects. Besides Channel One, Whittle has developed a television program for doctors' waiting rooms and is working on an in-store electronic media system.

Corporate Restructuring

Last week, the company announced a restructuring that includes a reshuffling of top executives and the layoff of about 8 percent of its workforce, all as part of a move to pursue opportunities in "large-scaled, place-based electronic media systems,'' Mr. Whittle said in a written statement.

Nick Glover, vice-chairman of Whittle, said in an interview that many projects had been grouped within the company by subject, such as Channel One and the school-based wall media.

"We have found that that is not a very effective way to run those businesses,'' Mr. Glover said.

The print properties will now be grouped together under a new unit, he said, and they will be re-evaluated. But no decision has been made whether to scrap "The Big Picture,'' "Connections,'' or other print ventures, Mr. Glover said.

"Most of these are very profitable properties,'' he added.

"The Big Picture'' appears monthly in some 10,000 elementary schools, while "Connections'' is in 5,500 high schools nationwide. Channel One is available in more than 10,000 schools.

The wall posters are about 6 feet by 4 feet and feature short articles, photos, and graphics aimed at elementary- or high-school-aged students. About one-quarter of each poster is taken up by ads for snack foods and other products.

The wall posters have not generated nearly the same level of objections from educators that Channel One has, although some schools have refused to accept them because of the advertising.

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